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Methamphetamine Abuse

What are methamphetamines?

Methamphetamines are a type of illegal drug. It is also called meth, crystal meth, or speed. Meth is usually smoked. It can also be sniffed, injected, swallowed, or put into the rectum. The effects of meth last longer than some other illegal drugs.

What may happen right after I use meth?

Meth stimulates the central nervous system, which includes your brain and spinal cord. You will have changes in your behavior and how you feel when you use meth. These changes usually occur right away. You may be more talkative, active, nervous, and you may anger more easily. You also may have an increased desire for sexual activity.

What are the long-term effects of meth abuse?

  • Memory loss and confusion: You may have a hard time remembering things. Your ability to learn information will decrease. You may feel confused. You may also do things more slowly than before.

  • Thought and behavior problems: Your actions may be violent or impulsive (done without thinking first). You may believe that you need to use meth to get through each day.

  • Heart and sexual problems: Meth can cause your heart muscle to weaken or work poorly. Meth can decrease a man's ability to have sex.

  • Aging and weight loss: Meth causes you to look older than you really are. You may not have a desire to keep yourself clean. You may eat poorly and become malnourished.

  • Skin sores and infection: You may begin a habit of picking at your skin. You may think you see or feel bugs on or under your skin and try to pick them off. Skin picking causes sores to grow, and the sores can get infected. Meth injection causes needle marks on your skin. Needle marks can also get infected.

  • Tooth decay: Meth use causes a dry mouth. You may crave fizzy and sugary drinks. You may be less likely to brush your teeth, and your teeth may rot. Meth makes you chew, clench, or grind your teeth more than normal. This causes your teeth to wear down. Your teeth may turn dark or black. They may break, crumble, or fall apart. This is called meth mouth. Your teeth may need to be pulled out.

What are the signs and symptoms of meth abuse?

  • Fast or fluttering heartbeat, and chest pain

  • Dilated pupils

  • Fast breathing

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Fever, chills, and sweats

  • Ringing in your ears or grinding your teeth

  • Confusion, seeing or hearing things that are not really there

  • Seizure or coma (you look like you are asleep but cannot be woken up)

What are the risks of meth use?

  • You can overdose on meth. This happens when you take more meth than your body can handle. You can overdose even when you use a small amount of meth. You can lose consciousness, have a seizure, and your heart may stop beating. This can be life-threatening.

  • You may become dependent on meth. This is when you need to use more meth, or use it more often, to get the same effects. You may change the way you use meth, such as from snorting to injecting, to get a stronger form of the drug. Your body may get used to the amount of meth you use. This is called tolerance. You may be unable to stop using it. When you try to stop using meth, you may have withdrawal symptoms and strong cravings for the drug.

  • Your heart may not be able to pump correctly. You can have a heart attack, kidney failure, seizure, or stroke. Blood vessels in the body or brain can burst, causing bleeding and death. Your airway can swell up and narrow if you inhale meth, which makes it hard to breathe. This may also cause you to stop breathing. You may be more likely to kill yourself because of depression and anxiety. Meth use can also make you want to hurt or kill other people.

How else is meth harmful?

  • Meth use with other drugs: Meth is more harmful when you combine it with alcohol or other drugs, such as cannabis or cocaine. This can be life-threatening.

  • The spread of disease: Your risk of HIV, hepatitis, and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is increased. You may have sex more often with different people. You may be less likely to practice safe sex, such as using a condom. People who inject meth often share used or dirty needles.

  • Exposure and burns in meth labs: Meth is cooked from chemicals and materials that can cause a fire or explosion. You can get burns from the open flame when you cook meth or are in the meth lab. The following problems can also happen:

    • You may feel sick or vomit. You may also have a headache or trouble breathing.

    • You may have chest pain and feel dizzy.

    • Your eyes may be damaged. Burns may occur on your skin, or you may get an inhalation burn. This occurs when you breathe in the chemicals used to make meth and damage your lungs. This can be life-threatening.

    • Children and others in the area may breathe in, eat, or absorb chemicals through their skin. They can be poisoned, or stuck by needles. Their lungs can be damaged by breathing in the smoke from meth.

  • Problems with others: You may lose your job. You may have trouble with money, lose your home, or you may get arrested. You may act out violently against others. Your children are at risk for injury or neglect.

What is meth withdrawal?

Withdrawal occurs when you decrease or stop using a drug you are addicted to. Meth users may have trouble coping with the symptoms of withdrawal and may start using meth again. Withdrawal signs and symptoms go away in days to weeks after you stop using meth. Meth withdrawal can cause the following signs and symptoms:

  • You may feel tired, sleep longer than usual, or not be able sleep at all. You may have bad dreams.

  • You may not be able to focus on a task. You may move more slowly and take longer to complete tasks. You may feel restless.

  • You may have strong cravings for meth.

  • You may feel nervous, angry, hungry, or unwell. You may think that people are trying to hurt you.

  • You may feel sad. You may want to kill yourself.

  • You may have seizures.

How does meth affect an unborn or newborn baby?

  • If you are pregnant and use meth, your baby may not grow as he should. Your baby may be born too early or die before birth. Your baby may have problems with his heart, brain, or body development. Do not breastfeed your baby if you use meth. You will give meth to your baby through your breast milk. Ask caregivers for more information about treatment programs and drug use while breastfeeding.

  • Your child may not grow as he should. He also may have trouble learning or managing anger.

How is meth abuse diagnosed?

Caregivers will check your blood pressure, pulse, and temperature. You may also need any the following:

  • Psychiatric assessment: Caregivers will ask if you have a history of psychological trauma, such as physical, sexual, or mental abuse. They will ask if you were given the care that you needed. Caregivers will ask you if you have been a victim of a crime or natural disaster, or if you have a serious injury or disease. They will ask you if you have seen other people being harmed, such as in combat. You will be asked if you drink alcohol or use drugs at present or in the past. Caregivers will ask you if you want to hurt or kill yourself or others. How you answer these questions can help caregivers decide on treatment. To help during treatment, caregivers will ask you about such things as how you feel about it and your hobbies and goals. Caregivers will also ask you about the people in your life who support you.

  • Blood, urine, and hair tests: Caregivers may test your blood, urine, or hair to check for meth abuse. You may also be tested for HIV, hepatitis, and tuberculosis.

  • Newborn meconium test: Caregivers may test the meconium of your newborn baby to check for meth abuse. Meconium is your newborn baby's first bowel movement.

How is meth abuse treated?

A monitor will be put on you to check your heart. You may be given treatments to decrease a high body temperature. You may also need any of the following medicines:

  • Activated charcoal: If you swallowed meth, you may be given activated charcoal to help absorb the drug in your stomach. You may vomit.

  • Sedative: This medicine is given to help you stay calm and relaxed.

  • Antipsychotics: Antipsychotics may be given to decrease thoughts that people are trying to hurt you. This medicine may help prevent you from seeing or hearing things that are not there.

  • Antidepressants: Antidepressants can decrease feelings of depression. This medicine may also decrease your drug cravings and help you want to stay in a treatment program.

  • Blood pressure medicine: This is given to lower your blood pressure. A controlled blood pressure helps protect your organs, such as your heart, lungs, brain, and kidneys. Take your blood pressure medicine exactly as directed.

What other treatments may be needed?

  • Contingency management: This program can help meth users stop using drugs by giving rewards. You may be rewarded for staying in treatment or giving drug-free urine samples. You may get rewards for having STI or tuberculosis tests, or getting vaccines to help decrease the spread of disease. Rewards may include vouchers to buy food.

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy: Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps you change your thinking and behavior. It can help you manage depression and anxiety caused by meth use. CBT can help you learn good coping skills and ways to manage stress. CBT can be done with you and a talk therapist or in a group with others.

  • Family therapy and support groups: Your friends and family may be asked to attend treatment sessions with you. Support groups are meetings with a talk therapist and other people who have used meth or other drugs. Programs near where you live may support your choice to quit using drugs. Ask caregivers for information about programs in your town.

  • Harm reduction: This program helps support your choice to avoid spreading disease. You may be able to return used needles and syringes and replace them with clean ones.

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • You have a fever.

  • You know or think you may be pregnant.

  • You have withdrawal symptoms and want to start using meth again.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You have chest pain and your heart rate or breathing are faster than usual.

  • You are so nervous that you cannot function.

  • You feel sick or vomit, or have headaches or trouble breathing while being around or cooking meth. You may also feel dizzy.

  • Children or others who have been near meth look or act ill, or will not wake up.

  • You have a seizure.

  • You want to hurt yourself or someone else.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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